Interview with Tom Sachs
The following interview was conducted at "Dusty's B-B-Q" in Atlanta, GA. some time in mid September of 1998. Tom's work has been shown internationally, and is represented by the Mary Boone gallery in New York. I konw there are some dated points in what follows, but I think it's still a good interview.
Jason Forrest: Let's talk about "Allied Cultural Prosthetics".
Tom Sachs: That's the name of the studio, the space before I got it was a machine shop called "Allied Machine Exchange", so I was the artist who came in and gentrified the space and took it from the industrial. I still use it as a shop, and some of the machines I still have, like a bridge crane that runs the length of the studio, it still rolls and is pretty major. But the A.C.P. takes its name from the original. When you loose an eye you get a glass eye, and when you loose a leg you get this wooden peg-leg, so when you loose culture - you get a prosthetic- a substitute. Things like Monster trucks and MTV, are the things that work now like art used to.
JF: So you're trying to make a substitute for....
TS: I'm trying to make a substitute for the things that are missing in my life. The things that I make are only going to exist if I make them, because no one would be dumb enough to waste their time to make the things that I do - except for me. (Laughs)
JF: Well I think you can take a number of stances with that idea of cultural prosthetics. You either are adding to it (culture) as an aid or a surrogate....
TS: That's a very 80's kind of postmodern dialogue, the idea of a surrogate, and that's not so much something that interests me in as much as putting things together. We all go out to thrift shops and record stores, and take things from places and put them together. Whether that's you or me looking through record bins or Quentin Tarantino looking through his video collection and saying: "Let's use John Travolta!" He brings out this dusty old gem and brushes it off and makes it new again. A lot of people are doing that, you know Marky Mark is making his big comeback....
JF: So you're ready for "Boogie Nights"?
TS: I'm so psyched for that!
WAITER: Here's your food. Jumbo pork sandwich, spare ribs, small green beans, plate for your bones, here's the chips, I'll get you some more tea there.... JF: Know what you have there?
TS: PORKRINDS! Oh, Yea! JF: What's this?
WAITER: That's homemade sour cream and onion dip for your chips.
JF+TS: Oh, Yea!
TS: We came to the right place!
JF: Ok, here it is, see this sauce, gotta dribble it on.
TS: Dig in! MMM...
JF: this is a helluva interview
TS: Do you want 2 or 3 ribs?
JF: Just one for now, and I'll get another later...So back to a different subject altogether,
TS: So we were talking about recycling and making do with getting by, and that's where Bricolage comes in. Its essentially making do with what you got, and we have a lot, we're lucky. So I'm just trying to use everything that's available.
JF: How interested are you in history and art history, and how the two fit together?
JF: I think, why you think that about them is because they were looking at the culture outside their windows alot, just like you look at art only being a subsidiary of war. They where looking at cars, comic books, Life Magazine. But they were only revolutionary in the "traditional" field of high culture.They were working in the field of culture, as opposed to someone like you who doesn't work entirely in that mode.
TS: It's interesting to talk about what culture is by saying they were working in the field of culture. By saying that, it's dangerous to begin disqualifying things. Because real culture is the car, Be Bop, the aircraft carrier...
JF: It's an interesting idea, because you've contradicted yourself by saying that the ACP was a prosthetic for culture being monster trucks, etc. But now you're saying...
TS: NO, I'm saying monster trucks are the real deal, sneakers are the real deal.
JF: But you're building those things off of Pollock, Ad Reinheart, and Rothco. Aren't you? Or are you building out of Charlie Parker and...
TS: Well I'd like to see all those things in the same ovure. Things like Monster trucks and sneakers being really big, as gestures, and people like Pollock and Kline being small - because they give things "the look". They're not really revolutionary. Like Mondrian: What is the culmination of Mondrian - a L'oreal bottle.
JF: Or a dress worn by Fran Dresher,
TS: Exactly, People know what L'oreal is, and
TS: Well, history's written by the winning man, but I think it's essential to know your history. Art history is only a small part of the history of War - which is real history.
JF: The history of War?
TS: Yea, those are the big issues. I mean, all the real stuff was the result of fighting. Art history is written by museum people. It doesn't tell the real story like a cathedral or a battleship does about the people or culture that built it. Art only tells a little bit.
JF: That's interesting because when I think of Abstract Expressionism, Clifford Still and the bunch, I think about them trying to paint war and classical music, a kind of parallel between the cannons and kettle drums. It really even goes back further than that, back to Kandinsky.
TS: I'm not sure I follow you, I always thought they were trying to paint Be Bop. When I look at that work (and not think about what I read) I think: Charlie Parker. They will never know what Mondrian was. But that's important, that is an impact. You have to think of the Avant Garde being distilled down, if we have 2 general cultural movements in America that are universally recognized, they are Abstract Expressionism and Jazz. Then there are all these other things like baseball and Nike.
JF: and Pop Art,
TS: Sure, but I don't think people get yet. But Disney...
JF: We just went there for a week with my niece and nephew. You down with Disney?
TS: I don't know anymore if I love Disney. I think Disney is major. I think Disney is one of the 3 most important artists of the 20th century, without a doubt. The others being Duchamp and Picasso, yea, those are the big 3. Without Picasso you don't have Pollack, and without Duchamp you don't have Warhol.
JF: Without Duchamp you don't have half of contemporary art today!
TS And so Disney was his own thing. See he got his whole idea from the railway Barons.
JF: There's an interesting Parallel between Disney and PT Barnum.
TS: same vibe.
JF: They were both nakedly aggressive and ambitious. But, I'd like to talk a little more about Duchamp. How do you see Duchamp's legacy in art today?
TS: Oi Vey! Its terrible what's happening, they take him so seriously. There's such a disregard for humor - and that was so vital to him in such a serious time. His iconoclasm and irreverence for tradition was based entirely on humor and not taking things too seriously and I think that deval- uates his work. Humor is just one of his fundamentals.
JF: Most of his titles are puns, and bad ones.
TS: There like dumb French jokes, which is great. I mean humor is dumb. Although I think you can measure a person's intelligence by their sense of humor. Laughter cures cancer.
JF: Is that one of those Weekly World News headlines?
TS: But its true -
JF: It cures cancer,
TS: Mark my words.
JF: Do you think that people who get cancer are lacking from humor in their lives?
TS: Well, I think people are realizing how stress is causing cancer, and laughter is our way of releasing such stress. It's like a kitten purring. It's the way we work. You know how it makes you feel.
JF: How do you think about the role of humor in the contemporary art world, or what do you feel its role is?
TS: Neglected, I really do, I mean things are taken so seriously, but people are beginning to loosen up a bit. But contemporary art is really uninteresting to me compared to bigger stuff like...
JF: THE TAMAGATCHI!
TS: UH huh! (Laughs) Tamagaotchi's amazing!
JF: I can talk for an hour about the Tamagotchi because it's so phenomenal.
TS: So you think about it?
JF: I am very serious about my Tamagotchi.
TS: Good! These things are important because they make us feel modern.
JF: How do you feel about Video?
TS: I like it.
JF: When video works, it works great, cause so much of its terrible.
TS: I've spent alot of time editing the few I've done. Gotta keep em short.
JF: Well it depends...
TS: If you want someone to watch it, you gotta keep it short.
JF: If you look at video like you look at film, as linear, then they need to be like commercials or music videos, unless you are Matthew Barney and have a captive audience. Or you can look at it another way, like a moving sculpture or painting.
TS: Yule log, That was a prototype for a lot of people's work.
JF: Yule Log?
TS: On Christmas Eve, for say 5 hours they play it on broadcast TV, with classical music in the background. Just a log burning with music.
JF: NO way!
TS: In the 80's you could buy these tapes of fish or a baby in a crib, sleeping.
JF: Yea but that's so perverted don't you think?
TS: No, you can have all these things without really having them.
JF: There are a couple of things that I have read about your work that are kind of mis-takes, the two things I highlighted in this review were: "Ultimately Sachs work seems more informed by Hollywood's glamorization of violence than by true subversiveness."
TS: She's missing the point. I hate to comment on what art writers say because it's like ornithology to the birds. Being both you know exactly what I mean.
JF: It so vicarious. Like a lamprey on a shark. Here's another one from "Left Coast Culture", it's a quote from Bresson that says: "To enter the ultimate surrealist act is to enter the streets with revolver in hand and fire into the crowd at random". So she ends up the review by saying...
TS: Yea like in sublime!
JF: The music group?
TS: Yea the band, "I'm gonna light up the spliff, are you gonna ruin my fun by calling 911, As I light up my spliff or should I pop in a clip and let one rip into you crazy fools." He's talking about doing that on stage randomly.
JF: I should stay on subject, BUT... I think so much about Hip hop and black kids and white kids, and American hip-hop and European Trance. These are all things I think about in the car because I have to drive long distances for my job.
TS: These are the things I think about when I'm making art. I don't think about some contemporary art, I think about the stuff that means something to me, and its music. Because that's our contemporary art, that's meaningful. There are a couple of people- only a couple of people in the art world or what ever (to see). There's only one pair of sneakers a season, Some seasons are 4, but it averages out to 1. And all the cars are getting worse, and there are only one or two that are cool...
JF: They're all just turning to bubbles.
TS: That place was so beautiful. Thank you for taking me there.
JF: You're welcome, I'm sure there are 80 billion places to go, but Dusty's is kind of unique. What we should do the next time you're in town is go to Lonnie Holly's. You know Lonnie Holly's work?
JF: He's a Folk Artist in the true sense of the word. He's a junk man.
TS: You mean in the tradition? JF: Of being a junk man?
TS: When you say folk artist, I always think like the tradition of people who came before him, like folk music.
JF: Yea, in the fact that there is a drive in certain people to do things, a drive that we both feel, which is part of the reason why so many artists empathize with folk artists. Because they see it as a true and pure form of art.
TS: That's a really good point, I think that I'm a folk artist. I'm city Folk. I think that Jackson Pollack was. When you get varied and eclectic sources for inspiration, when you're not just hanging out with your own folk, that's when it comes. Hello Kitty and guns, that's my folk.
1999 Mixed Media